How a contractor picks jobs

[Not just how a sewing contractor would pick your sewing job, any service provider. Stating such would make the title too long.]

As we were; here are some criteria a service provider would use to determine whether they want your business. Your job will be assessed -on the fly, most won’t open a spreadsheet to analyze it- and sorted into three broad categories based on your description*:

  1. The requirements of your job are fairly typical or routine and we do it all of the time. We’ll take the job if our schedule meshes with your deadlines and you seem to have costs and the means to pay for it figured out.
  2. The job and time frame isn’t well defined; it seems like a fishing expedition with no set criteria. One could conclude you’re using the bid process to educate yourself or you’re hoping to use our bid to leverage against another provider’s offer.
  3. Your job straddles the line of what we usually do and work that takes us in a direction we’d like to be moving but aren’t sure we can handle it -or you. More thought is needed to assess our risks and involvement.

*Obviously a description is necessary. If you write someone to say “I’m in need of a prototype for a apparel line I’m setting up.  Can you assist with this?” you’re automatically stuck into the second category and you probably won’t get a response. Here is a reminder on what to say.

Ideally, you fit in the top category. To increase your chances, you want to be as typical a customer as they usually serve. Since you’re already in a good position, you don’t want to have unusual requirements that have no bearing on the job that will make you stand out in any way. And that could be things like wanting signed NDAs, untoward expectations or anything their regular customers would not require or expect.

If you’re new and fall in the second category, bidding for your job will be lackluster because they might think you’re an arm waver.  The way to get around it is to be descriptive (again, see this). Our biggest worry with an inexperienced customer is being sideswiped with activities that fall outside the scope of work. And if the customer is new, they have little comparison for costs so they often feel it is insult to injury they be required to pay over and above what was agreed to because they think they’re paying through the nose already.

The third category is also promising because your project is compelling in some aspect. Note it is the project or work itself that is interesting; avoid unduly weighing the case against you with unusual requirements (NDAs, contracts etc) because it then becomes an easy “No”.

The underpinnings of the above three cognitive shortcuts are more complex. Determining whether we can do a job can be further analyzed like so -having a statement of work aka specifications or tech pack could make some of this easier if communicating in industry jargon is an issue. Links to entries on SOW (statement of work) which can help you define the job appear at close.

Roughly, this is the thought process in considering your job:

One has done a job like this before so if it wasn’t done successfully, why was that? Was it due to the nature of the job, the market, customer reliance, equipment or skills needed? Can these problems be reduced or eliminated this time around?

Or, one hasn’t done a job like this so there are many unknowns. What are the potential pitfalls and roadblocks? Depending on how related one’s usual jobs are to this one, it can be terrifying territory because one can’t know what one doesn’t know.

One also wonders if the customer really knows what they want or what they’re asking for. Again, developing a statement of work would be useful to express your wishes (but pass on the business plan, that’s TMI). It would also be helpful to make it clear that elements of the work may be subject to negotiation. For example, your SOW lists that a contractor will do a bit of embroidery when this is a service they normally send out.

A provider also worries whether they can do the job competitively as compared to their colleagues. Cost variation between companies is normal but a provider can get a bad reputation if it becomes known that their services routinely cost X times what their colleagues charge. Meaning, as much as they may want that job, they may not be able to do it as cost effectively as a competitor. I can’t speak for you but I truly value these kinds of discussions. I respect someone who says they can’t be competitive on given jobs.

A contractor is also concerned about developing a foundation for future work with you while at the same time, trying to maintain their existing relationships and commitments. From a contractor’s perspective, ideally no one is displaced.

The last concern is your budget and how you plan to pay for services. A good contractor will keep a close eye on how you are working and whether your priorities are in order. They will be concerned about how your orders relate to sales because they want you to come back.  You will be expected to make a 50% deposit when you place the job and pay the balance before it is shipped to you. A not so great contractor won’t care so much whether you have sales the back up the production order so they won’t ask the sorts of money questions that can make you uncomfortable and they often want most of the money if not all of it up front. As is too often the case in those situations, you’ll be a one shot customer so they take what they can get when they can get it because you won’t be coming back. In summary, welcome discomfiting discussion because those providers have your best interests at heart.

Who pays for a sewing contractor’s mistakes? SOW
Quality Control and SOW pt.1 (more about quality than SOW)
Quality Control and SOW pt.2 (ditto)
Why sewing contractors don’t want small lots
5 questions every designer must answer
5 questions every designer must answer revisited

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  1. Ellen says:

    Kathleen is correct that the more details you have the better your chances are to find and match up well with a contractor. I am a contractor and I tell all my prospective customers that we based our decision on whether to take on a project on 3 things: 1) fabric – are we able to cut well (certain fabrics such as satin and silk have issues in cutting) and does the fabric itself have issues such as curling which can cause problems in cutting,sewing and the quality of the product, 2) the construction of the product,ie do we have the right equipment and skills to do the product and 3) do we think the customer is willing to work with us to understand the process and hidden cost (patterns, markers,etc) that they most likely have not thought about as we go thru the costing, development and production especially on the first run. If anyone of these criterias are not good for us then we politely say no thank you and if I know of a contractor that is better suited for their project I will suggest they call this other resource.

  2. We always make sure to explain to people we turn down why we can’t work with them, but we’ve had a few situations where an incompatible prospect feels that we are OBLIGATED to work with them

    The only thing I have to add is -“NO means NO”

  3. Susan says:

    I going through my very first production run with my sewing contractor starting tomorrow. Having come with a referral (from the forum) and being honest about this being my first time was a help. I asked their advice. I listened. I made changes based on their input. That process helped a lot to establish a sense that I was genuinely seeking their professional expertise. Kathleen’s book was an absolute imperative for getting me to the right place to even have that conversation. I could explain my product, what I was thinking about in terms of patterns, grading and markers. etc. And that I understood we were going to follow a process of prototypes/pattern testing, salesmen samples, orders, and only then production. I probably still have not asked all the right questions, and for sure am going to make mistakes. But Kathleen’s descriptions above as so spot on: I was a total #3 for them. I am sure it was only the education I’ve received from Kathleen that enabled us to move to “yes”, rather than “no”.

  4. Jessica says:

    This is spot-on! As a contract sample maker who works with startups, I regularly get inquiries from prospective clients who are extremely vague about what their product & project entails; in many cases the type of product and materials aren’t even outlined. In order for me to assess if I’m even interested and able to do the work, I reply with a questionnaire that includes Kathleen’s 5 questions. This weeds out requests from unprepared designers who often don’t even respond. I’m also quick to admit that I may not be competitive on a project that is out of my regular scope of work, even though I may still be interested and willing to do the work if they can’t find anyone else who will take on the project. I also try to stress the importance of reading Kathleen’s book and joining the forum if they want contractors to take them seriously.

  5. Shilo Rives says:

    one of my fatal flaws was not going all out for the right materials from the start. I did some pieces that were embarassingly like patchwork to compensate for lack of the right fabric.

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